One of my must-read sections in the Sunday New York Times is the Sunday Book Review (runner up to Sunday Style, fyi). Each week, I get, if nothing else, a sort of Cliff's Notes version of books that are interesting, but I know I'll never read. Most weeks yield at least a few candidates for my "To Read" list. On a good week, I'll discover one for my "To Read A.S.A.P." list.
Tom Perrotta's "The Abstinence Teacher" swiftly made that list. Of course, with the NY Times practically hitting me over the head with it (great review plus author articles/interviews in two other sections the same week), how could it not?
If you're not familiar with Mr. Perrotta, he wrote the "Little Children: A Novel," as well as the screenplay for the fabulous movie adaptation. He also wrote the novel "Election," from which the hilarious movie was made. I'm about one-third through "Abstinence" and one of the things I'm enjoying immensely (as I did with "Little Children") is how human his characters are. You may not agree with their opinions, or even their actions, but their humanity shines through. No character is perfect; no character is irredeemable. Each has their hopes, dreams and desires and is trying to live life the best way they can, stumbling a little or a lot along the way. And aren't we all?
Also, Perrotta's characters aren't caricatures. Sometimes, you think you're seeing a caricature, but then you're shown another side, and you realize that, as in life, first impressions aren't always accurate impressions. This depth of characterization is especially effective when dealing with topics as polarizing as the those in "Abstinence": Sex ed vs. abstinence ed; evangelical Christianity vs. everyone else.
I just finished reading another find from Book Review, this time from an ad (yes, sometimes it is OK to judge a book by it's cover). "New Moon" is the second book in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. Thumbnail series sketch: Teenage girl (Isabella Swan) moves to Forks, Washington to live with her police chief father and falls in love with a teenage vampire (Edward Cullen). Complications ensue. I won't say more about that, because it would involve spoilers.
I'm not an across-the-board fan of the vampire fiction genre. That said, Elizabeth Kostova's "The Historian" was one of the best books I read last year, and I've recommended it to several people who read and loved it as much as I did. What I enjoy so much about the Twilight books is similar to what I enjoy about Harry Potter: vicariously reliving teen angst through the experiences of intelligent fictional characters who are placed in an environment that is on one hand pure fantasy and on the other hand totally normal.
A movie version of the first book, "Twilight," is in the works. Ironically, the actor cast to play the dreamy teen vamp is Robert Pattinson, who played Cedric Diggory in two of the HP movies.